Weight loss: study suggests it’s down to genetics but you can overcome that

Some people have genetically less willpower according to a new study

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A new study has found evidence to support the much-disputed topic of whether some people find it harder to lose weight than others because of their genes.   

Whether you've been struggling to lose weight, or are looking for a great excuse not to have to, this could be the answer. But don’t worry, you can trump the genetic cards you’ve been dealt... 

The research, conducted by a team led by Hilke Plassmann, the INSEAD Chaired Professor of Decision Neuroscience, found that a person’s ability to exercise self-control is linked to their neurobiology.

So, next time you find yourself caving and reaching for a doughnut or packet of salt and vinegar crisps it might, at least in part, be down to your brain.  

Researchers in the field of neuroeconomics believe that we choose what we eat by choosing food by giving it values for attributes such as taste and healthiness, and then weighing how important we think each of the attributes is. 

If we value taste more than healthiness, our taste ‘score’ will have a higher weighting than our healthiness ‘score’, making it more likely we will choose to eat the tasty food over the healthy food. 

Of course, this draws on the assumption that healthy food is always mundane and tasteless. Taste and healthiness are not mutually exclusive and there are many gadgets out there to help you cook great-tasting, healthy food. 

For the study, 78 women and 45 men took part in experiments based around food choices, during which their brains were monitored. 

According to structural imaging data, people with more grey matter in two regions of the brain – the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) if you really want to know – were more disciplined and placed greater importance of the healthiness of food. 

And there's nothing you can do about your grey matter, it's just genetics. 

If you are one of the unfortunate few with less grey matter in your dIPFC – meaning you might have less willpower thanks to genetics – below are four struggles you’re likely to face as you try to resist the urge to eat all the wrong foods. 

We’re not going to leave you stranded in despair, though; we’ve accompanied each struggle with a tip to help you overcome it and kick start your weight loss.  

Problem 1: every day is like Treat yourself Tuesday

A sugary doughnut should be an infrequent treat


Often when we’ve eaten healthily all day and even exercised, we reward ourselves. We say to ourselves, “I’ve been good, I deserve a treat," and end up undoing all the good we have done. 

Keeping track of the calories you've burned throughout the day with a running watch can be a real motivator when it comes to avoiding snacking. If you know you've had a great day and are in a calorie deficit, it just might stop you reaching for that chocolate bar at the checkout, or the biscuit tin so helpfully left open on the kitchen counter. 

 Problem 2: you’ve got no motivation to work out  

An athletic man working out with a kettle bell


If you want to lose weight fast but struggle to get up and get moving, maybe the knowledge that exercise is an appetite suppressant will help.

As nutritionist and fitness instructor Cassandra Barns explains, exercise “stimulates the release of feel good hormones – the same ones that are released by sweet or ‘junk’ foods, thereby stopping the need for the food you are craving.” 

Start with a type of exercise that doesn't need much equipment or skill to do at a basic level, such as running or cycling. We then recommend investing in some basic dumbbells and kettle bells – they're great for fat-burning workouts and don't take up much space, but the small investment will motivate you to keep moving. 

Problem 3: you're following the wrong diet 

A healthy vegan salad

Just because one diet worked for “that guy off the TV” doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. 

Some people swear by intermittent fasting, others cut out a particular food group altogether, whilst many concentrate on getting three balanced meals a day.

The options are plentiful, so it's important you find an eating plan that suits your lifestyle, your culinary skill level, and your willpower. Fast days become significantly less effective if you can't make it past lunchtime without a snack.  

If you want to go one step further, InBody analysis can help you find the best diet and exercise plan for you by analysing your body composition. Many gyms offer this service, as does Maître of Thyme, a new new holistic wellness boutique in London. 

The assessment will look at the distribution of fat mass and lean mass in different parts of your body, and the results can be used to develop a plan based on your goals.   

Problem 4: you're not getting enough sleep 

A woman waking up after a good sleep

Sleep deprivation can hinder your weight loss as it “lowers levels of leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite, and increases ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite,” says nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville.  

Whether it's an uncomfortable bed or noisy neighbours, there are many factors that can negatively impact our sleep. If you feel like you've tried everything there are several wonderful pieces of tech that can help you track, analyse and improve your sleep.